The War Over the War
Tuesday, November 13, 2007; 12:00 PM
Readers joined editor Dave Dilegge and publisher Bill Nagle of Small Wars Journal on Tuesday, Nov. 13 at noon ET to discuss the debate in Washington among government, military and intelligence officials over what course to follow in Iraq.
Submit your questions and comments before or during the discussion.
Dilegge is a retired U.S. Marine Corps Reserve intelligence and counterintelligence officer and an urban operations consultant for the USMC at Quantico, Va. He is a 1st Marine Division veteran of Desert Storm and, as a government civilian official, received the Colonel Donald Cook Award in 1999 as the Marine Corps's top intelligence professional.
Nagle is a Marine reservist and a defense contractor.
Note for readers: Washingtonpost.com's policy against guest anonymity wasn't explained to Small Wars Journal with regard to postings below by members of their Small Wars Council. Most agreed to be identified by name. Their brief bios of named posters follow. The only remaining anonymous was removed.
Kathleen Henry is a business analyst and member of Soldiers' Angels who blogs about the war at The Middle Ground.
Marc Tyrrell is an anthropologist who teaches at Carleton University.
Bill Van Horn is an administrative professional working with Air Force ROTC at Montana State University.
Steve Franks is a security manager at an Alabama hospital. He served in the 82nd Airborne Division from 1972 to 1975, and worked with Col. John Warden to adapt his "Five Rings" targeting theory for use in counter-stalking operations.
Sam Liles is a former Marine and law enforcement officer. He is an assistant professor at Purdue University-Calumet researching cyberwarfare as a form of low-intensity conflict.
Wayne Mastin is a retired Army intelligence officer now working on Air Force acquisition programs at ManTech, a national security technology company.
John Wolfsberger Jr. is a systems engineer working in weapon system development.
Bill Nagle: Dave and I are here today just as ourselves, but we're lucky to be part of something much bigger. We certainly have our own opinions, and we are frequently reminded that in the extremely complex adaptive systems of war and politics, there are many fundamental truths but rarely one simple "right" answer.
We started Small Wars Journal not to have our own soap box to stand on, but because we felt Small Wars are important and the niche needed an open and inclusive professional community to complement the various cloistered and limited collaboration venues that are out there. We're very happy that so many others feel the same way and have used the site to express their opinions, share their experience, and engage with others in serious discussion. Not to be right, but to be more informed and be better.
While we're doing the chat here today, I'll be feeding some of the questions back to the Small Wars Council. We've set up a special forum where our Council Members can weigh in on the questions you're posing to us. To the degree that my mouse and keyboard allow, I'll port some replies back into this chat (clearly marked as such). We're normally less real time over there, but we'll see how this goes. And I wouldn't be surprised if some of your questions grew their own legs over there and became active threads in the Small Wars Council, so check back in a bit. Anyone can view most forums. With a simple and free registration, you can post and you can see a few extra forums. The forums afford an added dimension of time that enables reflection and thoughtfulness, allowing chats to evolve into deeper discussions.
Dave Dilegge: It's my pleasure to be here today with my Small Wars Journal partner Bill Nagle and the good folks at the Washington Post. To open, I'll be up front by saying there are no "true experts" on counterinsurgency operations in Iraq -- to help us understand the real issues Bill and I rely heavily on the wide-ranging expertise of our bloggers and members of our Small Wars Council discussion board. I am ready to get started.
Asheville, N.C.: Just when did the administration uncover that it was fighting an insurgency, and did it have to wait until after the 2006 midterms to adopt a counterinsurgency approach? Exactly when was Petraeus notified he was to develop his counterinsurgency manual, and how did it happen?
Dave Dilegge: Lots of variables and issues that I was not privy to in your question. Here is what I think about this whole issue: we didn't have a coherent Phase IV plan, we didn't have all instruments of national power (interagency minus the military) available and we fueled the development of an insurgency by alienating large segments of the Iraqi population. It took us years to even acknowledge an insurgency existed. While(best and brightest tactical commanders implemented sound counterinsurgency (COIN) practices on a local level from the offset, their efforts were fleeting as units moved on and there existed a denial in many quarters that we were even facing an insurgency. That said, it is water under the bridge and best left to the historians to sort out -- it is time to move on. What is important is that we now have a "theater-wide" doctrine. Short of calling it quits the new Iraq strategy is our best, and possibly last, chance on getting this thing right.
Matewan, W.Va.: There appears to be some contention and maybe even competition between military traditionalists and advocates of COIN. How serious is this division? Is it in your opinions adversarial and in any way detrimental to the war in Iraq?
Dave Dilegge: I don't think the serious debate is between "military traditionalists" and COIN advocates. The serious debate is all about conducting successful COIN (now called Irregular Warfare by some) while maintaining our capability to conduct the rest of the spectrum. This debate has moved beyond the op-ed's and discussion groups and the military is taking a serious look at this issue through more formal avenues. Stayed tuned...
Fort Benning, Ga.: Gentlemen: With the president's analogy to Vietnam's aftermath a few months back, should the government begin aid the noble Iraqis and Afghans who have helped us in our efforts, and if so, how? After reading George Packer's "Betrayed" piece in the New Yorker, I was appalled by the depiction of our treatment of translators and contractors from Iraq risking their lives everyday for our ideals, missions, and mistakes. Do you think these matters should be discussed now, or will we see the same results as Vietnam, with mass exoduses? I suppose they have begun in Jordan and Syria already. Thank you for continuing your discourse.
washingtonpost.com: Betrayed: The Iraqis Who Trusted American the Most (New Yorker, March 26)
Bill Nagle: The personal tales of these individuals can be heart wrenching. We are deeply in their debt, and we as Americans tend to want to repay that debt with an E ticket to the land of milk and honey. In many cases, the "Betrayals" are agonizing.
But many of these individuals are, or should be, doing what they do as Patriots in their own countries. Not as table stakes for an immigration visa. I am deeply disturbed by some of our false starts, such as southern Iraq post-Gulf War. But at a certain point, we are helping them fight for their country. Not asking them to help us and offering a reward.
I can't tell you the number of agonizing personal tales I have heard from Marines who were aided by a local man of great courage, only to return to find him or his family sorely done to. Would I like them to escape? Hell yes. Can they all? No.
New York: What is the best-case scenario, and what is the realistic possibility that Iraq can become a stable country -- or does it appear hopelessly bound to continued ethnic fighting?
Bill Nagle: I think our entire species is hopelessly bound to continued ethnic fighting. We've been at it for eons, and even in the heart of the first world we are rife with tensions.
However, once you get out of the Logan's Run concept and identify with an acceptable level of violence, then the answer is definitive -- yes, Iraq can become a stable country.
Boston: What counterinsurgency lessons from Iraq or elsewhere could be applied to the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan? Do you believe that Iraq is the "central front in the war on terror"?
Dave Dilegge: The first and foremost lesson is that we need the wholehearted backing of the host nation government. That government seems to be in a "state of flux" right now. I think we have it right in the plan that Ann Scott Tyson reported on in the Post last week -- the new U.S. COIN strategy in Pakistan (training and advising Pakistani forces) is moving forward and will focus on the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
washingtonpost.com: Pakistan Strife Threatens Anti-Insurgent Plan (Post, Nov. 9)
Beaufort, S.C.: There has been quite a bit of discussion about the use of anthropologists to help shape the war effort on Small Wars Journal. Apparently some in the profession feel it is unethical to use anthropologists in such a manner. Could you expound on this debate for the readers here?
Dave Dilegge: The SWJ has taken a position in the ongoing debate concerning anthropologists' support to the military -- that this support is not only welcomed -- it is necessary as well.
SWJ's discussion board, the Small Wars Council is debating this issue at some length -- a debate that centers on anthropologists embedding with military Human Terrain Teams (HTTs).
This might sound quite simple on my part but I firmly believe anthropologists embedding in HTTs facilitates cultural awareness of local populations by US Forces thus enabling cross-cultural dialogues and informed actions that directly contribute to mitigating misunderstandings thereby reducing the potential of lethal encounters.
Oak Ridge, Tenn.: What impact does the current situation in Iraq and Afghanistan have on "Defense Transformation" activities, in particular the U.S. Joint Forces Command's vision of "Effects Based Operations" and NATO's "Response Force"? Because those efforts command a sizeable portion of the U.S. defense budget, one would hope they could adapt to the lessons from real-world complex contingencies.
Bill Nagle: I think the biggest impact on EBO will be the assignment of Gen Mattis to JFCOM.
Here are some thoughts from the Small Wars Council:
It has already had some effect. I just attended a conference in Montgomery, Ala. given by Col. John Warden (Ret.) of Gulf War 1. The New concepts are called "Smart Wars" and "Smart Strategies." He felt compelled to do this because the concepts of EBO are being grossly misunderstood from their original intent. Hence the name change.
I would suspect that the Afghanistan operation has increased the tensions inside NATO; specifically hose relating to he meaning and goals of the alliance.
One of the problems I've seen is the misunderstanding of the original doctrine, I believe. The purpose was not necessarily make the entire military "light" in regards to lighter vehicles, transportation, supply or protection, but to change the structure of divisions so that they could either operate as one large division in times of traditional warfare or be broken up into smaller components and used as needed without having to take the assets or personnel of an entire division with them for support or seriously damaging the capability of that division to operate.
For instance, if we were in a situation where we needed to support a wobbly nation, help it build some infrastructure and fulfill some basic civilian needs (like water treatment, medical assistance, etc) that didn't necessarily translate into large division operations, we might need a company or two of medical personnel, but not a combat company or more.
Current structure still makes pulling these things apart and placing them where you need them the most extremely difficult in logistics, support, reporting and personnel.
That is one of the purposes of "transportation." Not necessarily that we should be replacing a tank unit with Bradleys. I think that there was some fear over this question and has caused some military officers and the Department of Defense to balk.
Reston, Va.: Now that some troops are starting to return home from Iraq, will the U.S. Army and Marine Corps be able to maintain their presence among the Iraqi populace, affording them the opportunity to provide daily solutions to war-weary Iraqis? And what role can American civilians take to help the situation in Iraq, off the forward operating bases? Here's some background from a Brookings Institute report issued in May:
"But the Maliki government is dominated by militias, many of which inevitably will oppose U.S. efforts to marginalize them. Already, U.S. military units (and their ERTs) are being prevented from taking action in Najaf, Babil, and Maysan provinces because the coalition foolishly turned over control of those provinces to the militia-dominated central government. If the surge does begin to succeed, the militia leaders will become increasingly desperate and will doubtlessly use their control over the central government in Baghdad to try to bring it to a halt. And, when they do, the Bush administration is going to have a very serious problem either getting Baghdad to do the right thing or explaining why the United States must ignore the positions of a government it insists is sovereign."
Dave Dilegge: In a nutshell -- our presence is meant to be temporary -- that is sound COIN doctrine. The juggling act is who to withdraw -- when. The key is leaving behind trained and capable Iraqi security forces and civilian institutions that understand and practice the rule of law. Our trainers and advisers should be the last to leave and will give us the most bang for our buck.
Denver: The State Department seems to be having trouble getting enough of their people to go to Iraq. How badly does this hurt the efforts to come, and how should State handle this problem?
Dave Dilegge: We read with great interest Karen DeYoung's report on the new State Department initiative (more like an order) to send more diplomats to Iraq. As far as we are concerned, this is a long overdue move by State to fulfill its end of the 80 percent political, 20 percent military counterinsurgency (COIN) fight in Iraq.
While we applaud (what we call "long overdue") this move, we do acknowledge that State and other non-military departments and agencies lack the resources to fulfill their COIN obligations. It is time for the Administration and Congress to get serious and ensure that our Nation has the capacity to deploy fully-trained and mission-capable personnel that truly represent all elements of national power.
Bill Nagle: Some links for Beaufort regarding anthropologists. Lots more from there. Like Dave, I don't think the applied Anthropologists need to be apologists for taking their work outside the ivory tower and to where it can actually do some good. Sure, it can do some harm, too. The darn real world is so full of those two-edged swords.
Washington: Despite the marginally better security situation afforded by the "surge" and various awakening councils, passage of the Oil Law seems a long way off. Where is the political progress -- at the national level -- that we were told the Iraqi leaders were striving for?
Dave Dilegge: You asked the 64 thousand dollar question - all else is mere window dressing unless there is a true national political reconciliation in Iraq. Here are some bullets I recently wrote for Military.com on this issue:
Things to look for: Any and all indicators of a true national government capable (or becoming capable) and willing to take on those tasks associated with governance of a country. Solid steps towards national reconciliation is key. Again, movement on legislative initiatives such as the oil framework law, revenue sharing, and de-Baathification reform.
More things to look for: Increased (or decreased) ability of the central government to provide security; selection of national leaders in a manner considered just and fair by a majority of citizens; high level of popular participation and support for political processes; culturally acceptable level of government corruption; culturally acceptable level and rate of political, economic, and social development; and a high level of acceptance by major social institutions. In the near-term, movement on legislative initiatives such as the oil framework law, revenue sharing, and de-Baathification reform.
Roadblocks: The precarious state of the Iraqi Government due to criticism by other members of the major Shia coalition (the United Iraqi Alliance, UIA), Grand Ayatollah Sistani, and other Sunni and Kurdish parties. Increase in divisions between Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the Sadrists and possible alternate coalitions between Shia factions aimed at constraining Maliki. More roadblocks: Shia insecurity about retaining political dominance, widespread Sunni unwillingness to accept a diminished political status, factional rivalries within the sectarian communities resulting in armed conflict, and the actions of extremists such as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and elements of the Sadrist Jaish al-Mahdi (JAM) militia.
Much of this is contained in (extracted from) the recent National Intelligence Estimate and GAO report on Iraq ... I encourage everyone to read both.
Winnipeg, Canada: On balance, do you consider mercenaries such as Blackwater a help or a hindrance towards a resolution of the difficulties in Iraq?
Bill Nagle: It's a simple fact of the matter that the U.S. military has to outsource a number of can't-do-without capabilities. The war would not be possible without, e.g. KBR. So there absolutely must be a role for private military companies. (Not arguing should or shouldn't, but must)
The "mercenary" piece is related but very different. I personally have great difficulty with giving any lash-up Wild West blanket immunity to run-and-gun. I do not believe we should empower capitalists with the rights to legitimate violence, which should be the sole purview of the armed forces, tightly regulated. I think necessity has been the mother of too much invention there.
We have a forum to discuss PMCs and Entrepreneurs
New York: What are the thoughts about the proposals to keep Iraq one country but to partition Iraq into several states with strong governments, with each state representing primarily different ethnic and religious norms?
Bill Nagle: Some thoughts from Small Wars Council
The concept of a confederation rather than a federal system certainly has some merit to it. One potential danger is that there appears to be a general assumption that ethnicity and religion overlap in a clean manner in Iraq, and they don't. If we look at the last major form of partition along these lines (India and Pakistan after the fall of the Raj), we can see some of the potential problems. If a confederate system were to be adopted, then a better model would be Canada.
First, this possibility is not up to us, regardless of Congress's "resolutions" on the matter or even our own ideas on what would be best for us.
Second, there are already moves and counter moves by different groups who do and don't want "federal" Iraq. Sadr opposes "federal Iraq" for a number of reasons. Primarily, his support base is largely in Sadr city, right in the middle of an ethnically split province. His other followers are spread out over multiple southern provinces. The Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council controls most of the area in the south along with the Islamic Dawa Party and the Badr brigades. If the south became a separate state, Sadr would lose a huge amount of political support or have to share it with SIIC and Dawa in the south, marginalizing him and taking his direct ability to win political support out of his hands.
Like wise in the Baghdad province, he'd be marginalized by the Sunni who make up a huge portion of that province. He's not willing to do so.
Beyond the political issue there, if it splits off, Sadr would have little access to the oil and export revenue generated there. I believe he feels that the rest of the Shia is willing to sell him and his followers down the drink in order to secure their own power.
For the Sunni, it's a mixed bag. If they do manage to get a federal state going, it may cause the Shia to be continuously suspicious that the Sunni are going to break from Iraq or would feel compelled to work against the rest of the nation. The government, largely Shia, would have little control there.
Then again, even with new oil deposits discovered in the Sunni areas and the import/export and smuggling roads from Jordan and Syria, they do still have limited infrastructure and economy. They still need a lot of assistance from the main government. If they became a separate state, the Iraqi central government may see this as the go ahead to limit support.
Peaks Island, Maine: What is your opinion as to whether the arming of Sunni groups is part of a bottom-up reconciliation process, or an action that reduces casualties in the short run but will enhance the Sunni's strength in the inevitable Sunni-Shiite civil war?
Dave Dilegge: I personally favor a bottom-up approach to COIN, especially in the absence of any national political reconciliation. The clock, especially the "Washington Clock" is running out and right now this approach is probably our only option. It may be blessing in disguise. You are right though, this does come with risks, and COIN is all about risks and long-term commitment. While the advantages of a "bottom-up" approach to COIN is arguable; solid tactics, executed correctly and uniformly, provide a solid base while the "top" (host nation or otherwise) sorts itself out.
Bill Nagle: More for Reston from Small Wars Council:
Bill Van Horn
We also can't expect the government of Iraq to be formed in our own image. Their own culture, mores and history must be taken into account if the result is to be anything other than a sham. The militias have to be considered in the equation.
John Wolfsberger Jr.
Amen. We have to understand that our concept of democracy (which is actually republicanism) is not necessarily what other cultures need or want for their form of consensual, representative government.
This question assumes that local, regional and central government just started being built in Iraq this year or as the war is winding down. That simply isn't true. Democracy projects and military civil efforts have been working through the past four years to build these institutions and educate people.
Iraq has been working on infrastructure. You just wouldn't know it through all the suicide, IED and vehicle-borne IED attacks, horrible mass murders and daily death reports.
We can do more with more people willing to assist, but the Iraqis really have to work on this themselves. They do have people who have experience and education. The question really begs the answer "will the Iraqi educated and newly empowered local leaders step up to the plate and get it rolling?"
I think they will. While I hate to keep flogging the "Anbar" improvements, I do believe that such things as the "Awakening" and the "Concerned Citizens" will soon have a profound effect on politics on the ground. We're going to see some much more serious grass roots politics in Iraq's next election. That's good from my standpoint.
Bill Nagle: More from Council Member Kathleen Henry on the "Betrayed" issue:
I can tell you that this issue probably has multiple parts to it. I currently am trying to assist a former Afghan translator in working through the "who, what, when and how" of applying for such a visa. He worked for us for four years before he felt that the threat at home to his family was too big. I'm quoting when I tell you he said, "the Taliban have eyes everywhere". He is very concerned that his continuing presence in Afghanistan is a threat to his own life and that of his family.
The problem, of course, isn't that the program doesn't exist, it's that the unit that he was working with didn't offer and he didn't know he could until he no longer was working there and that unit was gone. Now he has to find someone who will speak to him over there and help him through the process. Another problem is that he is afraid to go to the consulate and afraid to go to the base because he feels that he is being targeted (he has had several threats made against him).
I'm over here and don't have the best clue about how to help him. I figure that this guy put his life on the line for four years, he deserves some assistance.
The question is "where do I start" or "where does he start?" And no one seems to have a good answer.
Chicago: Hi Dave and Bill. Given your druthers, would you prefer to see an American journalist embedded with every platoon, or a small cadre of war reporters who have genuine familiarity with the respective cultures of the U.S. military and the Arab-Islamic world?
Bill Nagle: Given my druthers, I would prefer to see a small cadre of media-empowered specialists, with cultural sensitivity and language skills, embedded in each squad. Maybe fire team.
My druthers are unbounded.
Realistically, we're not talking about a U.S. military culture, but a U.S. culture. Media is part of that, not a disinterested participant. We speak of all the elements of national power, but the only one out there is the blunt one.
Princeton, N.J.: I don't think you appreciate the anthropologists' problem. It isn't whether they do good or bad; it's the effect it will have on the profession. When they go to study people around the world, will they be regarded as agents of the frequently hated U.S. government?
Dave Dilegge: I do appreciate the anthropologists' problem, I also appreciate the problems of our boots on the ground military and civilian members who are trying to "do the right thing." Don't fool yourself, those who you think will hate the anthropologists for helping the U.S. military will find any excuse to hate you - simply being American comes to mind here.
Bill Nagle: Princeton, I may not fully appreciate the anthropologists problems. Even when I do, I might think their problems are smaller than the rest of the world's.
I do appreciate that the field has much to offer, particularly in a COIN environment. So I'll gladly deal with their smart black sheep if I have to. Or perhaps the field can figure out a way to be more relevant.
New York: I hear a lot of talk about how our increased troop presence in Iraq has greatly stemmed the violence in some areas, but I hear very little about exactly how these gains will be maintained once we start withdrawing these extra troops. This always seems to be the sticking point, but never seems to be addressed. Do you know of any credible strategy for maintaining the hard-won security? Thanks for the chat.
Bill Nagle: From Small Wars Council:
The real kicker is not whether we stay or go or whether we hold Iraqi trust and supply security, but has been all along whether the Iraqi security forces can gain the trust of the population and act in its interest and upholding the law in all aspects as well as whether the local government can be seen to do the same.
That is an incredibly hard road after the past four years.
As one military officer recently told his Iraqi partner, the reason that U.S. citizens enjoy the rule of law is because we believe in it and we trust, for the most part, that our government and law enforcement are there to protect us and act in our best interests. Iraq has to have the same.
That's learned by the citizens, not necessarily by marines knocking down doors.
Anonymous: Re: Pakistan -- "The first and foremost lesson is that we need the wholehearted backing of the host nation government. That government seems to be in a 'state of flux' right now." Is that realistic? A strong majority of the population of Pakistan disapproves of the U.S. and our foreign policy. How long will a Pakistani government giving us their "wholehearted backing" last?
Bill Nagle: From Small Wars Council's Marc Tyrrell:
There is a crucial distinction that needs to be made here between the government of a host nation and the the particular government in power in a host nation. In the case of Pakistan, and leaving out the Tribal Territories, the support for the radical Islamist irhabi is fairly low -- about 7 percent. The current state of "flux" is not going to change the general thrust of the Pakistan government as far as the irhabi are concerned, even if there is a shift in which government is in power.
Bill Nagle: Follow up for Peaks Island, Maine, from Small Wars Council:
Why is there an assumption that such as "civil war" is inevitable, even though it may be probable (an assumption I would not make)? All societies are based on a balance of force and power, and the choice of peace and war is based more upon political (often cultural) agreements on how to wage conflict - via politics, sports, business or kinetic operations.
It is not at all clear that a Sunni-Shia civil war is inevitable. What is probably more of a concern is ensuring that as groups arm themselves, the Iraqi government is also able to disarm them or at least control their applications of force with the Iraq Army and Iraq Police.
DeLand, Fla.: What are the prospects of a shared occupation and reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan with, say, China and/or Turkey taking an active role and relieving the majority of U.S. forces from their peacekeeping role -- as opposed to a unilateral pull-out by the U.S.?
Dave Dilegge: I don't think China would be interested and has its own internal problem with Islamic separatists -- such a deployment might add fuel to the fire. China has other priorities -- economics and energy resources come to mind here. Turkey has the "Kurdistan" problem and any deployment of their forces will be seriously second-guessed -- especially in Iraq. All that said, it would be great if we had a coalition of Islamic countries in support of our efforts. Of course, each comes with baggage, especially in the political arena.
Bill Nagle: Lots of great questions out there. Sorry I can't type or think fast enough to get to more of them. I've got to go back to my day job.
Here's to all of our folks overseas in action -- all our services, government agencies, NGO, PVO, private, etc. And most importantly, to the people of Iraq. I hope we help you get it right. Or at least better than it is at the moment. I believe we are heading that way with sound counterinsurgency practices now.
Kansas City, Mo.: Sen. Biden often has been quoted as saying that we needed to give a timeline or a definite indication that our commitment in Iraq was not indefinite, in order to give the Iraqis an incentive to get their problems straightened out. As time went on and the rhetoric regarding troop pullouts began to be reflected in the polls more succinctly, it seemed progress was being made in Iraq. Did American politics have any effect on this, or was it coincidental to events on the ground?
Dave Dilegge: From everything I have gathered, U.S. political posturing on Iraq does have an influence -- sometimes for the good, other times for the bad. You raised a difficult question, one that begs finding an answer for an issue that balances the fine line between prodding the Iraqi National Government to get serious about reconciliation and tipping the opposition -- especially al-Qaeda in Iraq and other insurgent and criminal elements on how long they need to "lay low" until we depart. What I hope is happening, and I am confident that Ambassador Crocker and Gen. Petraeus are doing, is that applying pressure behind closed doors. Taking this debate public is like trying to put out a fire with a bucket of gasoline.
Louisville, Ky.: There was much debate about manpower and the numbers needed for the Iraq war. We keep hearing we have enough troops on the ground, but tours are extended and units keep going back. How much time in country impacts the ability of a soldier to be effective? In short, how much time should a man/woman serve before they are not expected to keep on serving in a combat zone?
Bill Nagle: From Small Wars Council
Bill Van Horn
Age-old debate here ... and one that has no satisfactory answer. In short ... "it varies."
Going back to the Vietnam example, the claim was that it took about four months for the average troop to become useful in-country. They were effective for four to five months, and then the wind-down to the end of their tours started taking a toll on effectiveness. It's interesting to note that the 15-month tour was considered by some in the system to be better suited for Vietnam, but it was never adapted for political and other reasons. There are examples of men who broke down after days in country ... and other examples of men who kept extending their tours until they'd been in-country for two or more years.
The World War II model was you served until you broke down or were killed/wounded. Korea introduced a point system that allowed people to rotate out at a certain point.
During Vietnam 12-month tours were fairly common. During the '80s and '90s infantry unites deployed in the range of six to nine months on a variety of missions. The operational tempo of 15-month deployments and short stays at home will wear down the military machine. The expenditures in health care, equipment replenishment and the associated maintenance will be extraordinary.
One explanation of the expectation of 15-month tours is that this is a volunteer force and it is the job. Another is that we are looking at a critical point and that the operational tempo will slow down. This is in direct contrast to leadership superlatives of a long war to be fought on many fronts.
In the end accidents, errors, and illness will erode any military force in the field without significant replenishment for long periods. The time in reserve has always been the method of allowing for training and support. This particular war is of interest to the concept of operational tempo simply because the time in the war zone is so long. The war in Iraq is already longer than U.S. involvement in World War II. There have been few times in the history of the United States that we've fought a war this long and at no time was it ever done with an all volunteer force.
In the end the length of service commitment will be a political decision that will likely say it depends.
Dave Dilegge: Thanks, this has been enjoyable and a learning experience. Great questions and I wish we could have answered them all. If asked back we will have this session under our belts and knowing the forum mechanics should be able to smooth out our ability to better answer your questions. Thanks Post -- our pleasure being here today.
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